cover image Smile as They Bow

Smile as They Bow

Nu Nu Yi. Hyperion Books, $21.95 (146pp) ISBN 978-1-4013-0337-2

Myanmar novelist Yi, in her first work translated into English, gives a fascinating glimpse into the life of a gay, transvestite spirit medium caught up in a midlife crisis amid the currents of an annual summer Buddhist festival. A full array of pilgrims, along with their attendant pickpockets, musicians and peddlers, gather in the Burmese village of Taungbyon, eager to throw money at the various shrine natkadaws-mediums, mostly transvestites, who channel spirits known as nats. The narrative offers the stream-of-consciousness voices of several of these travel-worn festival visitors, but mainly dwells on the shrill sadness of one natkadaw in his fifties, Daisy Bond, weary of the obsequious wheedling that his job requires and terrified that Min Min, his bonded assistant of seven years, is going to leave him. A 16-year-old peasant when Daisy bought him from his mother, Min Min has become indispensable as Daisy's factotum, dresser, gofer and lover, but he's met a young street girl musician and is resolved to marry her. Yi convincingly portrays the bathos of Daisy's ludicrous gender-bending charade, though his mercenary quest for love is fully fleshed and affectingly portrayed.